May 23, 2016 - Money

“Children, how hard it is to enter the Kingdom of God!
It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle
than for one who is rich to enter the Kingdom of God.”
They were exceedingly astonished and said among themselves,
“Then who can be saved?”
Jesus looked at them and said,
“For men it is impossible, but not for God.
All things are possible for God.”

Mark 10:24-27

I admire the apostles’ reaction to Jesus.  They don’t assume that Jesus is condemning only the 'one percent' or the tax bracket immediately above them. Even as itinerant preachers they are more wealthy, healthy and socially accepted than the widows, lepers and Canaanites they are encountering on their way. 

But Jesus’s reference to the “eye of the needle” reveals his meaning.  It is likely a reference to an ancient Jewish midrash or commentary on The Song of Songs.  In the biblical text of The Song of Songs, God speaks to us as a heart-sick lover: 

“I sleep but my heart waketh, it is the voice of my beloved that knocketh: Open to me, my sister, my love, my dove.” (Song of Solomon 5:2) 

This was interpreted and expanded upon in Jewish commentaries that may well have been oral tradition at the time of Jesus: 

“The voice of my beloved, the Holy One, Blessed be He, is calling: Open to Me an opening no bigger than the eye of a needle, and I will open to thee the supernal gates.” (Abraham Heschel, God in Search of Man, p. 146 Quoting Midrash Rabba, The Song of Songs 5:2 and Zohar, vol. III, p.95a) 

This is finally not a story about money at all.  It is an affirmation that no one can earn God's love, but God gives it freely.  He exploits any excuse, however small, to do so.  That is grace.